Bhutto Shaheed’s legacy – by Sherry Rehman


Friday, April 03, 2009

Every year, as April 4 approaches, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s spirit and memory loom large on the hearts and minds of the Pakistani nation. His 30th death anniversary is a time to recall his contribution, but it is also an occasion to reflect on the state of our political lives, agendas for change, and where we are headed. The PPP, the party that Shaheed Bhutto founded in 1967, has come a long way since its first electoral victory, and has survived the battering of dictators and the assassination of his daughter, the other cult-status leader Pakistan and the Bhutto family have produced. It is today facing yet another set of unique challenges that have perhaps never quite threatened the country in quite the same way.

Shaheed Z A Bhutto, as he led a movement that forced a transition from military to civilian, elected rule, had grasped the need to root power in an electorate. And by creating a mass-based federal party, he trumped the entire establishment that had taken hold of political power in Pakistan since the death of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan. He also understood that the poor and the underprivileged of Pakistan need urgent protections, and that these vast swathes of unaddressed grievances were what needed attention at levels only governments can provide. His new Pakistan People’s Party created a whirlwind revolution, as he toured the country, building public confidence in a renewed social and political equation. After that, Z A Bhutto and his PPP became an unstoppable dynamic, because for the first time in Pakistan the bottom of the social pyramid was mobilised to provide the constituency for fundamental change.

Despite the fact that Pakistan stood truncated and defeated after the loss of East Pakistan, Bhutto achieved at Simla what no other could have done. He brought back 90,000 prisoners of war, plus 5,000 miles of territory West Pakistan had lost in a largely asymmetrical war with India. The land was not what was critical, it was the confidence that the nation needed after such a life-sapping loss.

A real social revolution took place at home. For the first time a minimum wage was notified and a new deal for workers, which provided dignity and a fair return to labour, was encoded with the full force of the state. The goal of redistribution of land in the agricultural sector remained incomplete, but industrial labour actually shared profit with business for the first time, and earned its first right of bonus, as well as security of employment, right of compensation, insurance and pensions. The so-called Green Revolution of the previous military regime had excluded an entire generation of agricultural labour, and widespread peasant hunger was actually stemmed by the first agricultural credit and resource policies of the first PPP government.

In 1973, Shaheed ZAB laid the foundation stone for the Pakistan Steel Mills that produced significant amounts of steel and provided forward linkages to new industries. Twenty-three new engineering and steel-based industries were established as downstream projects of Pakistan Steel. Through initiatives such as the Aeronautical Complex at Kamrah, the Heavy Mechanical Complex at Texila, and the Kahuta laboratories, SZAB laid the groundwork for a research-driven industrial base. Port Qasim and Tarbela Dam provided the vital infrastructural support so badly needed.

The remittance economy that bolstered the coffers of a profligate dictatorship after it overthrew the civilian government and committed the charismatic leader’s extrajudicial murder, was a spigot turned on by the SZAB government. Pakistan began exporting its human resource to the booming Gulf economy as a result of Bhutto Shaheed’s Middle East diplomatic coups, so that even during 1972-77, remittance flows stood at $1.4 billion.

The social sectors too were not treated as “soft” priorities, and a new health policy was announced, as well as a new education plan which, if even partially followed through in the next decade, on sheer fundamentals of providing universal primary education, would not have left our young people hostage to rightwing reactionary ideologies.

But SZAB’s stellar achievement was the building of a laborious consensus for the country’s new plan for a social contract. The 1973 Constitution, which was enforced on Aug 14, gave Pakistan a federal parliamentary system, and the country’s women, minorities, and underprivileged their first constitutional rights. It upheld the rule of law and, most importantly, grafted a formula for division of resources amongst the provinces that protected rights, both regionally and against a strong centre, which had spawned disaffection in East Pakistan.

It is this very Constitution that was held in abeyance by two military dictators, bolstered by Doctrine of Necessity judgements provided by supine courts. Yet even today, in an over-populous and transformed Pakistan, where provinces seek more autonomy and Parliament the sovereign right to rule, it is the same Constitution that forms the backbone of the Charter of Democracy as well. One document was pioneered by SZAB, and the other by Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, in partnership with the PPP’s main political rival, the PML-N. These two are now the roadmap to Pakistan’s political salvation, if we are to make our decisions in accordance with institutional governance and according to a mandate that urgently demands policy reviews and appropriate legislation.

The challenges that Pakistan faces today are unprecedented in nature and scope. The PPP is uniquely placed, with its consensus formula, to translate these challenges into opportunities. Terrorism, poverty, provincial imbalances are only some of them, but they are stalking the land like an enemy within. To focus on these issues, any government or political force will need time, resources and stability at home. The way forward should be very clear. The federation needs unity. The judges have been restored and a pivotal moment awaits concerted, stable, coordinated action to undertake clear multilevel reform that guards against social fragmentation and the open threats to the state arising from terrorism.

Now is the time to take such action, because if we are to survive as a stable federation there are no options except to embark on a new social contract for Pakistan. Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has given us the 1973 Constitution. His daughter has given us the way forward with the CoD. The PPP and all its leadership, including the president and the PM, and workers have given enough of their blood, sweat and tears, spent enough time in jails. It is imperative now for all political forces to reconcile their differences, because we don’t have the luxury of time.

The writer is a PPP member of the National Assembly

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